Tuesday, 14 February 2012 00:00

"Do Not Lose Heart", February 12, 2012

“Do Not Lose Heart”
Ephesians 3:1-13
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
February 12, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

“Here I am,” declares the song. Here we are sitting comfortably on a hard pew. Here we are stirred by the pull of the Gospel. Here we are, ready to be sent.  “Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.” Maybe it wasn’t just gas. Now what am I supposed to do?

That’s the ultimate question isn’t it? Is it simply how do I make it through the day, or is it larger, like what is my place in the world?  How might God want me to live?  I think both are entwined, bound together and tied up in our very hearts and our circumstances.

The Apostle Paul spent a lot of time as a prisoner.  At least that’s how he describes himself.  Whether it was Paul who wrote Ephesians is in question, but the opening description of how he describes his predicament is consistent.  He calls himself a prisoner.  Is he writing his letter from behind prison bars, like Martin Luther King wrote his prophetic letter from the Birmingham jail?  Or is he enthralled and entrapped by the word of truth that he knows—the Gospel message of love and mercy?  Is he a physical prisoner, a figurative prisoner of hope, or a combination of both?

The message that so enthralls him and is the focus of today’s scripture reading is that the Gentiles are welcomed to the family of God.  Jesus and his first dozen or so disciples were Jews.  Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about God’s chosen tribe.  But Paul’s writings in particular show a different kind of message.  The message is that the mercies of God are not just for those of Jewish heritage, but for the entire world.


The writer of Ephesians calls this a mystery.  Mystery is mentioned five times in today’s scripture reading. David Bartlett, in a commentary on this passage in “feasting on the Word” said that “In popular parlance, a mystery is a puzzle to be solved.  In Ephesians, mystery is a treasure to be revealed.” The mystery, in Ephesians, is that God welcomed Gentiles into the family of God. The hidden mystery is that it was this way since the dawn of time.

This is a radical departure from the Jewish faith.  Judaism doesn’t seek converts like Christianity does.  Judaism encourages people of the bloodline to live into their heritage and be the faithful tribe it was called to be.  Christianity, thanks in large part to the writings of the Canonical Paul, is a faith that is open to everyone and brings good news to the entire world.  The good news in Ephesians is that this was always God’s intent.

Paul reminds us that because of this Gospel, he does not lose heart.  The scripture starts with Paul being a prisoner and ends with I will not lose heart—because of the mystery of God-because God has redeemed the world---because there is this mystery happening under the surface, making all things new—because the church is here—because believers can do all things through God who strengthens us.  Therefore, we do not lose heart. Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul uses this same sentiment:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
--2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Do not lose heart.

Heart.  That’s what we need to live and thrive in this world. We need that steady beat. Heart is another word for passion.  We have heard that sports teams that are successful are the ones who had the most heart—those who did not give up when everything seemed stacked against them.

There is often a disconnect between head and heart.  The head can talk the heart out of things.  It can convince you that you’re not good enough, not stable enough, not smart enough. The head can convince you that you will fail, that you can’t succeed.  And if you believe the head, then you are lost.

But when head and heart are on the same page, then mountains start to move.

We are not heads with a heart.  We are not hearts with a head.  We are integrated pieces together.  And we function best when all things are in balance.  There is a saying by J.R. Worsley on the wall in Kim’s office at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. It says this:

If the body is sick, the mind worries and the spirit grieves; if the mind is sick, the body and spirit will suffer from its confusion; if the spirit is sick, there will be no will to care for the body or mind.

We need to tend to the body, to the mind and to the heart/the spirit.

We are often tempted to give up when the going gets tough. We are tempted to lose heart.

You know the refrain: Oh it’s no use. No one cares. It’s too big, too much work. I’m not articulate enough. It’s no use working this hard. No one’s gonna listen to the sermon anyway.  Whoops, that’s a little close to home. I’m too tired, too worn out, too lethargic. What’s the use?

Or worse, someone else will step in. Then we see the bumper sticker sentiment: We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote extensively on this subject:

“Do not lose heart. We were made for these times...Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement...

For many decades, worldwide, souls just like us have been felled and left for dead in so many ways over and over brought down by naïveté, by lack of love, by being ambushed and assaulted by various cultural and personal shocks in the extreme. We have a history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially - we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection. Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered can be restored to life again.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn't you say you were a believer? Didn't you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn't you ask for grace? Don't you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?...

Understand the paradox: If you study the physics of a waterspout, you will see that the outer vortex whirls far more quickly than the inner one. To calm the storm means to quiet the outer layer, to cause it to swirl much less, to more evenly match the velocity of the inner core - 'til whatever has been lifted into such a vicious funnel falls back to Earth, lays down, is peaceable again. One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or desperation thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take "everyone on Earth" to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

How do we find the reserves when things start to conspire against us?  How do we not lose heart?  What resources to you count on?

I know that I look for those things that renew me.  I went to an all-day singing event yesterday.  I felt the rush and volume of 160 people joining together and making a sound the we cannot make alone.  I lost my voice in the second hour.  Luckily, I was surrounded by people who picked up the slack.

Last night we gathered around a table at Dinners for 8 (or was it 9 or 10).  Laughter, good food and good friends help us to not lose heart.

I know that the prayer shawls people knit for others here helps people not to lose heart.

Lucius Walker was tempted, I’m sure, to give up on his quest to bring medical supplies to Cuba or Chiapas or Nicaragua or El Salvador.  But he was enlivened by other people who were in the struggle with him.  He depended upon the people who backed him.  He lived into the words of Isaiah’s call, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”  And when he got shot or turned back at the border once again, he relied on the power of the Gospel, saying “we shall not give up the fight we have only started…together we’ll have victory hand holding hand…”

And hearing stories of people like him, I am reminded of all those peacemakers who surround and support our ministry and our mission.  They are not simply heroes and sheras from long ago.  They are our cloud of witnesses that spur us on.

Because of them we do not lose heart.  But not only because of them.  Because of the people here in this very room, we do not lose heart.  We are heirs of their legacy of standing in the gap.  We are not alone.  It was what Jesus did, it is what the prophets did.  It is what each of these people who were prisoners of hope did.  It is what we do.  We are the ones who choose not to lose heart.  We choose not to let defeatism have the final say.

We choose to live as resurrection people, not just Good Friday people.  So go into the world remembering who you are and whose you are.  God is always there with us to lead us in the ways of everlasting.  God never gives up on us.  God is as close as the beating of our heart.  And we must not lose heart.

And here’s the really good news.  If one does lose heart, the resurrected community can stand in and find the heart, work to mend it and get it beating right again.  That’s what the church is for.  It is to find the heart once lost and get it beating again.  That is the Good News we are to proclaim and live.  May it be so.